Much of business comes down to weighing risk vs. reward. That may be why so many companies choose to prevent employees from accessing social networking sites like Facebook at work. The risks of doing so, including data leakage and exposure to malware, have been well documented. The rewards are harder to quantify.
It may not be enough to convince companies to give their employees free rein to use social networks, but a recent Forrester Research survey shows those who use social media tools are more likely to have good feelings about their employer and share them with others.
According to an AdAge item by Forrester analyst Josh Bernioff, Forrester asked 5,519 information workers in North America and several European countries how likely they would be to recommend their company's products or services to a friend or family member. The results weren't great, with only about a quarter of respondents answering 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, earning them a "promoter" classification. About half were detractors (answering 0 through 6) and the rest were neutral (7 or 8).
As Bernioff writes, workers who use social media are among the most positive, with 48 percent scoring as promoters and just 26 percent detractors. A few other interesting facts: Senior-level managers were more likely to be promoters than rank-and-file workers, and customer service workers are among the most likely to be detractors. (Maybe all of those customer complaints they hear are starting to sink in?)
The results were roughly the same when Forrester asked employees how likely they would be to recommend a job at their company to a friend or family member, according to a Network World story about the survey. Forrester VP Matt Brown, a research director in content and collaboration, thinks the negative economy might have impacted the results if, as he says, it's kept disgruntled workers in jobs they don't like.
My own two cents is that allowing folks to use social media at work is a sign of a company that trusts employees to (mostly) do the right things. Barring employees from social media is a little like keeping office supplies under lock and key and requiring folks to fill out paperwork just to get some staples or a pen. It can make employees feel like bad people, even if they're not.
Based on survey results, Forrester recommends using social networking to support hiring and recruiting efforts, something I've written about in the past. It also advises encouraging employees to advocate for the company and educating senior executives about the potential benefits of allowing employees to use social media. A recent blog post by Forrester analyst Ted Schadler describes how the CIO of Lloyd's of London has assumed this education role at his company.
I think social media policies, which often focus on how not to use social networks, might be a great place to encourage employees to be company advocates.